Miami Fla June 28 2011 When Francisca Vente hurled herself from the third-story window of her North Miami-Dade apartment in February 2009, she escaped a suspected killer on the run from police.
Her plunge saved her life. But her confrontation with suspected killer Michael Davis also exposed a dangerous lack of security at the Bay Winds apartment complex, Vente asserted in a lawsuit. A Miami-Dade jury recently agreed, awarding her $1.8 million in damages.
“I think it’s fair,’’ Vente said last week. “If the apartment had the right security, this would have never happened. The money still isn’t compensation for all the emotional damage.”
Vente, who now lives with her sister in South Miami-Dade, says she still has nightmares about her encounter with Davis, who barged into her apartment and choked her. Police later shot him to death.
The damage wasn’t just emotional — Vente broke her pelvis, spine and wrists in the fall.
She spent three months in the hospital with her arms in casts, plus another month in rehab. A 54-year-old Colombia native, Vente had worked as a condo cleaning woman, but is now on disability because she can’t walk for prolonged periods or bend down.
But she’s alive. “I’ve learned that God has a plan for you. I have a second chance at life,” she said.
John Golden, an attorney for the company that runs Bay Winds, 11910 NE 16th Ave., did not return a phone call seeking comment. The company, Cornerstone Residential Management, could appeal the jury’s decision.
The roots of Vente’s ordeal began in Miami Beach, where Davis was suspected of the January 2009 strangulation of Bradley Paul, 18, whose body was found slumped next to a vacant South Beach apartment building.
When Miami Beach detectives went to Davis’ Meridian Avenue apartment to question him, the 32-year-old crashed through a second-story window and ran away. He got into a nearby residence and held a family at knifepoint overnight — fondling a teenage boy — before escaping the police dragnet.
Detectives, tracking a stolen cell phone, caught up with Davis hours later at the Leeward Motel, 11790 Biscayne Blvd. Again, he escaped into the neighborhood.
At the time, Vente lived at the Bay Winds apartments, run by Cornerstone, one of the nation’s largest affordable housing companies.
Home alone, Vente was watching television when she heard a knock. She opened the door, believing it was the air conditioner repairman coming to fix a broken unit.
Instead, Davis barged in. As she bit him and screamed, Davis choked her with a piece of clothing until she passed out. When she awoke, Davis had changed into clothes stolen from her adult son’s bedroom.
Vente quickly glanced at a photo on the wall of her son, Alexander Valentine, a Marine stationed in Hawaii. Fearing she would never see him again, Vente said a quick prayer and burst through the window screen, landing on a patch of grass three floors below.
Her sudden jump alerted police to Davis’ presence. Moments later, officers shot him to death in the courtyard of the complex after they said he appeared to reach for a weapon in his waistband.
Vente’s attorney, Joseph Lipsky, sued Cornerstone for negligence for the lack of security that allowed Davis to storm the apartment, although it was unclear exactly how he got into the complex. There was no video surveillance at the entrances of the 10-building, 230-unit complex.
During the six-day trial, trial, jurors learned that Cornerstone — in applying for affordable housing tax credits from the state — had agreed to provide a gated community with card-access entry.
But apartment managers left a pedestrian gate unlocked during the day when Davis got in, and security guards only worked at night. “There was nobody whose job it was to monitor safety during the day,” Lipsky said.
Also, the gates were easily scaled. And residents were not notified of crimes on the property, as the company had spelled out in its internal policies. “The manager testified that she didn’t know she had to do that because she had never read the company’s manual,” Lipsky said.
At trial, which concluded June 13, Cornerstone cast blame on Vente for opening the front door to her apartment, allowing Davis to enter. Jurors disagreed for the most part, finding Cornerstone and its subsidiary, Bay Winds, 80 percent liable.
Jurors deliberated just 90 minutes.